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Full text of "Poland Russia and Great Britain 1941-1945"

camps was half that of a soldier in the British Army. The privates
however, renounced their ration one day a week, and the officers, two days
a week, for the sake of the Polish civilians; but it was still too little to keep
those starving people and the increasing crowds of refugees alive. It was
not long before many graves appeared in the camps around the Polish flag.
The first task of the Polish authorities was to save as many of these
exhausted people as possible. The strongest only had been able to
survive. They were —
** people who had saved their lives by executing their quota of work with
their bare hands, those who could not had just died. Those who were
unable to live through the frosts of 40 degrees Centigrade, the snow, the
blizzards, and the terrible heat of the summer, those died before the eyes
of the living. The people who could not overcome scurvy, typhoid and
dysentery, who could not cling on to life with all their remaining strength of
will, perished. Those who could not patiently endure the bars of their
prisons—those also perished without trace or echo.'*
On August 25th, the Recruiting Commission set about its task,
beginning with the prisoner-of-war camps and continuing from September
ist, with the labour camps and prisons from which the Russians had
commenced to release the Poles. Among the officers and privates who
came from these places of detention were many who had been sentenced
to death by the Soviet tribunals, some, as late as July yth, 1941;
during the time, therefore, when the Soviets were already negotiating with
the Polish Government, and even on July 29th, the eve of the signing of the
Polish-Russian Agreement in London. These people had been vaguely
accused of being spies, saboteurs or of carrying out Fascist propaganda,
not only in peace-time, but whilst they were in Russia, i.e., when they had
been in prison. The prosecutors never troubled to give any proof in
connection with these accusations and the sentences of death were
imposed en masse. It is difficult to judge what lay behind the imposition
of such death sentences and whether it had any connection with the
Russian policy towards Poland, or whether it was simply to clear the
over-crowded prisons of the frontier zone, including Moscow and the
Ukraine. The verdicts in the above quoted instances had not been
fulfilled but were changed to a sentence often to fifteen years* imprison-
ment.
" Some day a historian will record," wrote Ilya Ehrenburg, that most
eminent Russian writer of this war, after a visit to the Polish camps, ** the
courage and patriotism of these men who built up an army in exile. All
we can say now is that it was not easy to bridge in one day the gulf which
has divided Russians and Poles for centuries. It was not easy to give
arms to a former foe. Nor was it easy to take arms from the former
foe."
Mistrust on both sides was great. The wrongs inflicted by the Soviet
Government on the citizens of Poland had been appalling in their seem-
ingly senseless cruelty. Yet the Poles were willing to forget all these
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